After a 2-year interim with only online meetings, the 36th conference finally could be organized again as an in-person meeting in Hennef, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Unfortunately, the former long-term meeting venue Maria in der Aue at Dabringhausen had closed down permanently and thus the organizers Andreas Meyer (Bonn), Ute Höcker (Cologne), and Marcel Quint (Halle) together with the DBG Section Plant Physiology and Molecular Biology (SPPMB) had to find a new venue for the 36th conference. The organizers succeeded and found the Sportschule Hennef as a suitable venue that can accommodate a conference with more than 170 attendees. The first feedback from MBP2023 attendees was quite positive: it seems possible that a new Hennef culture can be established that provides the extra bit of motivation to register for future MBP conferences.
At MBP2023 about 190 students, postdocs and group leaders met to discuss current developments and discoveries in molecular plant science. Apart from attendees from Germany also scientists form other European countries and oversees joined, who did their PhD in Germany, are searching for a postdoc position in Germany, or are looking for a new position after temporary employment abroad. In addition, three international speakers, Christa Testerink (Wageningen, Netherlands), Harvey Millar (Perth, Australia) und Ronald Pierik (Utrecht, Netherlands) were invited by the organizers.
Marked place for science and new ideas
The meeting schedule comprised nine sessions with 49 talks on subjects across the field of molecular plant biology, and two poster sessions in which altogether 95 posters. All presenters did extremely well and the audience was always keen to discuss the presented work. The scientific program was complemented by an industry fair with ten suppliers of equipment and services presenting themselves to advertise their respective products. With all this, MBP2023 became a true market place for new ideas, which will certainly be converted to new data for further knowledge extension in the near future.
Sporting activities for recreation and bonding
The conference venue Sportschule Hennef provided not only excellent facilities for the scientific part of the conference, but also opportunities to do some sports for recreation and bonding. Here, football, badminton and table tennis were offered on Wednesday afternoon during a 2-hour break from the scientific programme. All three disciplines attracted roughly similar numbers of attendees; some others went for a run on the track around the sports field or enjoyed the afternoon sun during a hike in the forest. The football match of PhD students against principal investigators surprisingly ended with a devastating defeat for the students. It is not obvious why the students could not perform better on this occasion. For time reasons a rematch cannot be played before 2024, which of course leaves plenty of time for training.
Strawberries for astronauts and party night
As in former years, one of the invited lectures was designated as Reinhold-von-Sengbusch-Lecture to commemorate Reinhold von Sengbusch, a well-known German plant breeder of the 20th century, who combined scientific and economic success, especially with his strawberry breeds. MBP2023 took place almost exactly on the 125th birthday of Reinhold von Sengbusch. For this celebration, the organizers at Hennef welcomed three representatives of the von Sengbusch family. The lecture was given by Harvey Millar, who reported on his excellent work on the bioenergetics of plant mitochondria. Towards the end, he presented a new project, which addresses the question how to grow plants in space to produce food for astronauts. In this context, Harvey Millar elegantly managed to link the work conducted by Reinhold von Sengbusch to current work by asking the question whether we can grow strawberries in space. Future astronauts would certainly be grateful for such a change in their diet.
After the conference dinner, the hotel staff had already converted the conference hall into a party hall with bar and dance floor such that everything was set for the longest night in German plant science. Already shortly after the party ended, the last session started and ended with handing out of awards for the best talks and posters.
The Reinhold-von-Sengbusch-Awards for PhD students and first year postdocs for posters and talks were originally established on the occasion of the 100th birthday of Reinhold von Sengbusch and donated by the von Sengbusch family. Thanks to an additional anonymous donation, it was possible to hand out four awards for talks and posters, which compensated a little for the fact that PhD students had barely opportunities to present their excellent work at conferences during the past three years.
Besides the von-Sengbusch-Awards for PhD students, Beatrix Enderle (Freiburg) was awarded the Agrisera prize for the best poster presented by a postdoc and Arthur Korte (Würzburg) received the Plant Journal Award for the best oral presentation by a junior group leader. Finally, the SPPMB honoured Joram Schwartzmann and Tegan Amarego-Marriott with this year’s SciComm-Award for their outreach in science communication.
Farewell and the Future
After four years on the organizing board and two online conferences as lead organizer, Marcel Quint (Halle) is now stepping down and gave his farewell lecture “Thermomorphogenesis - Molecular mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity in response to global warming”. Finally, the next chair, Ute Höcker (Cologne), closed the meeting with the announcement that Christopher Grefen (Bochum) will replace Marcel Quint on the organizing board, and invitation to MBP2024, which is scheduled for 4th to 7th March 2024 again at Sportschule Hennef. The organisers are looking forward to this already and hope to see you there again.
Bonn, February 2023
Prof. Andreas Meyer, Conference Chair, Professorship of Chemical Signalling at Bonn University